Agrofuels and oil palm plantations

EU agrofuels policy: driving destruction and making climate change worse

The promotion of agrofuels as a form of renewable energy is proving to be one of the EU’s biggest policy mistakes.

Back in 2003, when the European Union (EU) was developing its renewable energy policies agrofuels were championed as a clean, green solution to reducing carbon emissions. Ten years on, agrofuels are aggravating climate change rather than making it better. Worse still, they have become a key driver of forest and biodiversity loss, land-grabs and conflicts, and human rights abuses in producer countries such as Indonesia. Increasingly, agricultural land needed to produce food is being reallocated to grow crops for agrofuels to fuel cars rather than to feed hungry people. 

The demand for agrofuels is set to increase exponentially over the next 7 years. EU governments will rely almost entirely on agrofuels to hit targets for renewable transport by 2020, and increasingly as a fuel for power stations. Despite clear evidence of the impacts of this growing demand, European decision-makers are doing little to stop it. 

DTE and other CSOs are urging the EU to take immediate steps to reform its renewable energy policies and set a pathway which leads away from dependence on agrofuels towards genuine renewable energy.[1] In particular the EU should:

1) Enforce robust environmental sustainability criteria which ensure Europe is accountable for its CO2 emissions and local environmental impacts from agrofuel production. These criteria should:

  • Include ILUC factors[2] in all carbon accounting for agrofuels to ensure Governments and fuel suppliers are accountable for the full ‘life-cycle’ emissions (i.e. the carbon emission produced at all stages of the agrofuels’ cycle of production and use – from seed to fuel tank)  of individual feedstocks[3] used in the production of agrofuels  consumed and produced in Europe.
  • Account for the impacts of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) on the local environment and natural resources in producer countries
  • Set a 60% greenhouse gas reduction threshold (compared to fossil fuels) for all agrofuels produced or consumed in Europe, effective immediately.

2) Enforce robust social sustainability criteria for agrofuels consumed or produced in Europe, which make Europe accountable for the impacts of agrofuels on people in producer countries. These criteria should:

  • Ensure that human rights of all communities affected by agrofuels development are protected. These include the right to food, land rights, and the right of indigenous peoples to give or withhold their Free, Prior and Informed Consent to developments affecting them, as well the right to personal integrity and security.[4]
  • Ensure that local economies, community livelihoods and the natural resources that underpin these are not undermined by agrofuels developments
  • Ensure that the human rights, labour rights and health of workers on agrofuels projects are protected.
  •  Prohibit the use of agrofuels feedstocks which present competition for global food production

3)  Remove subsidies and financial incentives for investment in agrofuels for power stations


[1] See the CE Delft Report (commissioned by Greenpeace and
BirdLife Europe, with support from Transport & Environment and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB)) for information on sustainable alternatives to land-based agrofuels

[2] ILUC factor is the value placed on feedstocks used in the production of agrofuels. This aims to account for the emissions resulting from the indirect land use change which that feedstock has caused. For example, the establishment of oil palm plantations often results in the clearing of forest and draining of peatland in Indonesia. This produces high levels of carbon emissions so the ILUC factor of oil palm would reflect this.

[3]  A feedstock is the starting material used to produce the agrofuel – for example crops such as oil palm or soy.

[4] In line with the Bali Declaration on Human Rights and Agribusiness in Southeast Asia,